Negotiating the use of another translation – the Vita Per Michaelem of Nicholas of Myra

The earliest full-dress hagiographical “life” of St Nicholas of Myra, a.k.a. Santa Claus, is the Vita per Michaelem by Michael the Archimandrite, dating from the 9th century.  The first 11 chapters of this were translated by John Quinn of Hope College, Holland, Michigan, but he died in 2008 while out jogging without completing the work.  His version has been online at the St Nicholas Center website here, marked as their copyright.

A little while ago I commissioned Bryson Sewell to translate the remaining chapters, and his excellent translation has come through today.  I have donated a copy to the St Nicholas Center for their use, which should allow them to complete their page.  But of course I would like to circulate a complete text too!  So I have written to them to see whether they will make their chapters into something that can circulate, perhaps Creative Commons or something.

We’ll see.  In the mean time I shall look over the other St Nicholas material, with an eye to seeing what else ought to be translated.  There is, of course, loads of stuff; but it is the earliest and most important that matters here.

A trip to Colchester Castle museum

colchester_glass

The Roman site of Camulodunum lies beneath the modern British town of Colchester.  By a curious chance, it remains an army town, even today, almost 2,000 years later.

Today I drove there, with the intention of photographing the Roman items on display in the Castle, which serves as the town museum.  The Norman Colchester Castle itself is built on the massive plinth of the Roman temple of Claudius, and is consequently larger than it would otherwise be.

I carried out my intention, using the 13mp camera in my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone.  The museum had been dolled up in recent years, and very modern lighting added which often left items in semi-darkness.  But no doubt it functions well as something to interest children – a vital part of its role – although the very high price of admission demanded will ensure that only middle-class children ever visit it.

Interestingly I found that the camera in the smartphone adjusted better to the conditions than my own eyes did.  Many an item was far clearer on the screen, than it was to the naked eye.  The camera adjusted to the conditions, and sharpened automatically.

An example picture is above, showing some Roman glassware on display.  It must be admitted that those who designed the display did make it look impressive!

On the other hand, the camera has adjusted the colours also.  The real items are not nearly so vivid.  This was noticeable at the time with the green bowl, which in reality was a rather faded green.  On the other hand … it may be that this is precisely how these items looked when they were new.

I’ve uploaded the whole photoset to Flickr, so that people can make use of the images as they please.  I also photographed the museum labels, since an absence of these is infuriating in so many online images.

Some of the shots are blurry.  I am no photographer, and I grew incredibly physically weary taking these.  There are 298 photographs in the set!  They were taken over a period of something over an hour.  I tried to photograph every Roman object on display.  But for those on display there are, apparently, many more!

From my diary – scanning my own past

You do it.  I do it.  We all do it.  Yes, I’m talking about photocopies!  All those journal articles… all those books that we couldn’t get hold of in any other way.

At least, that’s what we used to do.  I suspect that university libraries are allowing copying direct to PDF these days.  But certainly fifteen years ago, if I wanted a copy of a book, or an article, it was photocopying or nothing.

20150127_193808 20150127_193825

In consequence, over time, I amassed a great quantity of the things.  The first ones I neatly filed in hanging folders in a filing cabinet.  But this quickly became impossible.  I noted that the paper used in photocopiers came in nice-sized boxes, and appropriated these.  Inside them, I stored my articles, separated by wrapping a piece of paper around them.

Over time I ended up with nine of these boxes.  Big, heavy, and so solid that, as I had 6 of them piled next to my desk, I tended to use them as furniture and rest coffee cups, notes, pens, etc on top of them.

Only one is left now.  This evening I finished the last-but-one.  Its contents are now PDFs on my hard disk.

I imagine that I stopped keeping photocopies around 3-4 years ago, and just automatically scanned them to PDF.  But looking in the boxes is like looking into my own past.  Today, for instance, I have found a load of books and articles relating to the Chronicle of St. Jerome, which I (and a gang of volunteers) translated into English.  I’m told that was 10 years ago.  My, how the time has flown.

In those days I uploaded the result to HTML.  Should I have produced a PDF version?  It seems more clear each day that I should have done so.  But I doubt that I have the energy any more.  Let others do it, if they will: I have given them the materials.

At least I can now see the carpet next to my desk.  For the first time in over a decade!

From my diary

A new job at the start of November, so I have been rather preoccupied.  But a little progress has been made.

I’ve commissioned a translation of the fragments of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis.  The main part of this was published by Sachau from the Syriac, but there are also Greek fragments.  The tendency towards a  non-allegorical approach in the Antiochene writers means that what he has to say should be of interest even today.

I hope to get some translations made of some of the medieval Greek legendary hagiographical material about St Nicholas of Myra – also known as Santa Claus.  It is remarkable that no English translation exists of almost all this material, regardless of its evident lack of historical value.

It was my intention to do some work on a translation of the 10th century Arabic Christian writer Eutychius.  No time so far!

A little work has been done on the Mithras site – uploading a couple more monuments, as photographs became available – but nothing significant.

I’m not clear how much time I shall get at home at Christmas and New Year, but there will be more activity if I get the chance!

From my diary

The first complete draft of Severian of Gabala, De Spiritu Sancto, has arrived.  More to the point, I have now read through it all and given feedback.  One section of it is distinctly hard to follow in the original, because Severian is not being as clear as he might be.  In consequence he has to keep asking his audience to concentrate!

But it’s an interesting sermon.  Once we’ve added enough words in brackets so that the reader can follow the thought, I think that it will be of general interest to modern readers who would like to understand the basis from scripture for some of the church’s statements about the Holy Spirit.

I’ve continued working on the Mithras site.  This week I located pictures of two lost reliefs, and added them to the index of monuments.  It is a very great privilege to live in the internet age, when we can locate relatively easily materials that would have been quite impossible to access, back in 1997, when I started Tertullian.org!

I’ve also had an update on a Greek homily that I commissioned; work is in progress.  There is also hope of a translation of the Syriac remains of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis.

Autumn has now definitely arrived here, and this leads me to think of Christmas, and so of Santa Claus.  It seems to be a fact that the hagiographical Lives of St. Nicholas have never been translated into English, or indeed any modern language.  Unfortunately they are late, and exist in multiple versions.  It might be fun to select one or two and commission translations, tho.  Mightn’t it?!

Having the right tools

It is wonderful what a difference it makes to have the right tools.

Years ago I obtained a thesis from the US, for which I was charged like a wounded bull.  It was printed double-sided, and I had no sheet-feeder able to handle that.  Today I found two very old Finereader projects on disk, neither comprising more than 70 pages, and both clearly scanned by doing a bunch, first one side, then the other.  It must have been very labour-intensive, for I never proceeded further.

Anyway a correspondent caused me to look for it again.  Thankfully I was able to find the paper copy.  But these days I have a Futijsu Scansnap which is designed to turn bunches of papers into PDFs.  It made short work of the whole document.  Then I numbered the pages in Adobe Acrobat, which revealed one case where two pages had gone through.  I also found that a few pages had acquired a vertical line; these I rescanned.

At the moment Adobe is OCRing the PDF for me.  When it is done, I shall have a nice, compact, 400 dpi copy of the whole thing.

I hardly ever consult the thing; but at least, if I so wish, I can do so easily.

That little document reader was a splendid investment.  When I think of the pain I endure with things which won’t go into it, I am deeply impressed.

There are other advances also.  At my current workplace they have one of these combined scanner-printer-photocopier.  It has a sheet-feeder for copies, and outputs scans to PDF.  I have used it to scan a load of paper articles early one morning into PDF.  But … if you look closely … it will scan A3 as well, through the same A4-looking sheetfeeder.  Which means that even bulky old A3 copies – and who hasn’t got at least some of these? – can be turned into PDFs and the paper discarded!

Worth looking out for at your work.  After all, it doesn’t use consumables, and is way faster than any home device.  Just make sure nobody is likely to object.

Going a-Rome-ing in August

Readers of twitter will be aware that I went to Rome last Friday, coming back Monday afternoon.  I booked only a couple of weeks earlier, so I had to pay a large sum to the airline.  But the hotel was cheap, relatively.  Even so, the money seemed to vanish!

Going to Rome in August was a bit different.  The traffic is much reduced.  But the sun was truly brutal.  It was 32C in the shade every day – although on Sunday night there was rain and a thunderstorm – which made it impossible to do much outdoors.

Sites close, also.  I walked to the Trevi fountain on my first evening there, only to find it drained and empty.  I had hoped to go and see the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca, which is open at 4pm on the 4th Sunday of the month; but it was closed because it is August.

I stayed at the Hotel Nerva, which is behind the ruins of the temple of Mars Ultor, and right on the imperial forums.  I was shown to my garret – rooms in Rome always seem very small – but fortunately the aircon was on, if not as cool as I would have liked.  I asked for, and  got, a desktop fan as well, which helped quite a bit.

The staff ordered a number of items for me in advance, and also, at my request, asked for the ticket for Santa Prisca.  This is useful if you don’t speak Italian.  They ordered me a “Roma” pass which gave me free use of the underground (trains also airconditioned; stations not), as well as the train to Ostia.  Interestingly I found that you can buy this pass in the arrivals hall at Ciampino, while waiting for your luggage.  They also got me a ticket for the Vatican museums for 10:30 on Monday, although I could have bought this online and printed it off myself.

tauroctony_on_tour

On Saturday I spent most of the morning at the Museo Nazionale in the Baths of Diocletian, opposite Termini railway station.  It was air-conditioned, it had toilets – although not toilet seats, curiously -, a vending machine for bottled water and sweeties, and … practically no visitors.  This made it ideal for photographing some of the exhibits.  It was also very interesting to find that some exhibits which had been absent last year had returned, and vice versa.  I took quite a collection of photos of the Mithras exhibits using the 10mp camera on my mobile phone.  I’ve not yet done more than copy the photos to my hard disk, however.

Some of the finds from the Mithraeum of S. Stefano Rotondo
Some of the finds from the Mithraeum of S. Stefano Rotondo

For lunch I ventured out to one of the tourist bar-restaurants nearby, and was duly scalped for poor quality food.  Avoid “steak” – I have twice been offered some mass of stringy fat with bits of meat interspersed in it. The bread was nice, but the waiter whisked it away before I could eat much of it!

bread_i_never_ate

After that, I headed downtown.  For I had discovered that my 11 euro ticket for the museum would also admit me to the museum site at the Crypta Balbi, where I knew that there was a Mithraeum.  This too was largely empty, and I was able to get myself onto an Italian-speaking tour of the basement areas, including the Mithraeum – rather disappointing, the latter.  The staff were very helpful.  But I must say that the printed materials were profoundly confusing, and it took quite some effort to get oriented!  Upstairs there were Mithraic artefacts!

Remains of a tauroctony in the museum of the Crypta Balbi.
Remains of a tauroctony in the museum of the Crypta Balbi.

Then I walked up to the Pantheon, and then back to the hotel to snooze for a very necessary hour.  Then in the evening I went out, bought a panini at a food shop, and then I sat in the shade next to the Colosseum, and watched the people go to and fro, until the sun went down.

On Sunday I used my Roma pass and took the tube to Pyramide, transferring from there to the train for Ostia Antica (also free).  I have never seen a sign indicating which train is for Ostia Antica; but if you look inside, the tube-train-like panels above the doors indicate the stations to be visited.  The train was airconditioned, which was nice.  On arrival at the station, I walked to the ruins, and became aware how hot it was.  It seemed an interminable walk from the ticket office to the cafeteria, which – and I recommend doing this – I visited first.  It was empty, but I got some food, bought and drank more water, bought a 2 euro site plan in the bookshop, and then I looked to see where the Mithraea were.

Then I ventured out to see if I could find a particular site.  It was bestially hot, and I quickly became aware that it was no fun at all.  I was unable to locate the Mithraeum, and I realised that all I wanted to do was go back to Rome.   So I did, getting back around noon.  It was very good to get back to my nice cool room!

Far too hot in Ostia.
Far too hot in Ostia.

But the room had not been made up!  So I ventured out, and ended up wandering up the backstreets, eventually emerging at Termini.  There is a large Spar supermarket on the far side of the station, which is worth being aware of.  Then back, and, after lying around a lot, out back to the Colosseum.  It was rather threatening with rain.  I walked down to where the Septizonium used to be, but couldn’t see much sign of it.  Then back.  I bought an umbrella from a street vendor, and sat near the Colosseum.  Then it rained!  Up went my umbrella, while everyone else ran for cover, except for a woman sitting not that far from me who got progressively drenched.  For some reason she didn’t have, or buy, an umbrella.  I felt a little sorry for her; but not enough to forgo my own umbrella!  Eventually I spoke to her, and she turned out to be a sports journalist from Plymouth.

On the Monday I went to the Vatican museum.  The pre-booked ticket meant that I could go through the entrance immediately without queuing; but the desks inside to exchange it for a ticket were a disaster.  I emerged feeling very stressed.  I went first to the Pio Christiano gallery, and found the statue of Hippolytus there.  Fortunately this gallery was empty, and indeed was closed later.  The bad news was that the statue was just a cast.  Then to the cafeteria!  Then I went in search of the Mithras monuments, which were in the “room of the animals”, but impossible to see from more than a distance.  There were also some monuments in the Chiaramonti gallery.  But on the whole the experience was awful – a great, sweaty crush of people in corridors too small for them, and no way out.  I felt quite claustrophobic at one point, and eventually ducked under a rope and escaped!!

After that, I went back to the hotel, and got a car to the airport.  I arrived 2 hours before hand, and it took an hour to get through baggage checkin and security.  After sitting on a chair for half an hour, I went through and they were just boarding the priority passengers.  So I had no real time to wait.

I don’t think that I would go to Rome in August again.  It is just too hot to stand in the sun.  But it was very interesting to see, all the same.

UPDATE: The Mithras tauroctonies in the Chiaramonti gallery are these.  Unfortunately none of my photos came out well.

Mithraic monuments in the Chiaramonti gallery in the Vatican museum
Mithraic monuments in the Chiaramonti gallery in the Vatican museum

From my diary: the evanescent internet

Today, at work, I cast around for a web-based form to point a computer program at, for testing purposes.  I recalled my own feedback form, at Tertullian.org, and decided to use that.  I was having one of those days, you know, when everything goes wrong.  But at least my own website wouldn’t let me down, right?

Wrong.  The form didn’t work.

Clearly it hadn’t worked, for quite some time.  Yet I couldn’t see why.  It was a very simple piece of software, and hadn’t changed in, well, probably a decade.

But of course it wasn’t running on the hardware-software platform of 2004 any more.  Somewhere, sometime, my website provider had upgraded.  It happens all the time.

Some software upgrade had broken it, silently.  The form is written in PHP, and clearly one or the other of the PHP upgrades had silently removed features on which it depends.  It emails me in a distinctive format, and, now I come to think of it, I haven’t seen one in quite some time.  A year?  Two?  How time flies…

I spent a less than pleasant hour this evening, rewriting the way it captures variables.  The new version is considerably more baroque than the old.  It’s longer.  It might be more secure, I don’t know.  But it’s not the same form any more.

Of course this makes me wonder what other PHP scripts are lying around on my website, long forgotten.  I can’t even face looking.

This is how the internet dies.  We all know that it is less than permanent.  What we forget is that software less than a decade old, designed to run and be accessible by the world, is probably only sporadically working.

All those eager-beavers, upgrading and improving constantly, are … leaving a trail of wrecked websites behind them.

I wonder how many of us are actually hosting deadware – scripts that once worked and no longer do?

From my diary

The sales figures for the books have come in.  The Eusebius is still selling, although not in great numbers; the Origen has yet to really get underway, although it may do better once the reviews appear.

I’ve continued to work on the Mithras website.  For the most part this is reactive; e.g. somebody posts an image online somewhere that comes to my attention, and I research the monument and create a web page for it.    I haven’t done any more on the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca this week, but I will resume work on this.  One area that I want to include is whatever is known about the early Christian remains in the same area.  I had intended to go across to Cambridge University Library this week and obtain some articles, but this has not been possible, thanks to some of the “stuff that happens while you are making plans to do other things”.

The translation of Severian of Gabala’s De Spiritu Sancto is progressing.  Interestingly it begins by surveying what the bible says about the Holy Spirit, or so I understand.

My attention has otherwise been distracted by some nuisance at home; this too is part of life, although I endure less of it than most people.

From my diary

It’s been a busy 24 hours.  Another chunk of the translation of Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke has appeared – this work now nearly done, thankfully.

As previous posts have indicated, Severian’s De pace came in.  I have commissioned another Severian, and a second gentleman has expressed interest in doing Severian as well.  I’m willing.  In fact there are homilies of Severian extant only in Armenian, and I am willing to pay someone to translate these as well.  But we’ll get there.

I also spent time trying to untangle the account in Vermaseren’s Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentum Religionis Mithriacae of the items from Chester; but to some purpose, for I realised that in fact there were four monuments, not three, and that this had confused Vermaseren himself.

Various items scanned during the week had to be processed, OCR’d and stored away.  The British copyright libraries wanted their free copies of Origen, Exegetical works on Ezekiel.  It all takes time…

I also had to finish that translation of Bosio on the grave of Maria; because I had done too much to drop it.  And I noted in the WordPress dashboard a half-written post on Palladas, so felt I’d better finish that off.  Another half-written post on Hippolytus can stay that way!  Another post that I started, on some daft decision-making in US journals, was, I decided, really politics and so I deleted it.  For some reason I seem to have done a lot of starting posts which I don’t finish lately.

Much else that isn’t deserving of mention was done.

But it all ended with a pleasing email from Lightning Source: the Origen book has already sold four paperback copies through Amazon.  And I only made it available about a week ago.  Thank you very much, whoever you are!